My First DJ Gig With Custom IEMs

Colin Brown
Read time: 2 mins
Last updated 4 April, 2018

We occasionally cover the idea of IEMs (in-ear monitors) as an alternative for DJ headphones in the DJ booth here on Digital DJ Tips. Well, I decided to take the plunge myself recently after a lot of thought, and in this post, I’ll tell you what DJing with IEMs is really like.OK, so just back from the gig, and here are my thoughts.

In short, I loved them! The isolation was really good – drastically better than my previous traditional (Sennheiser HD25-1) headphones. Sound quality / clarity with the IEMs was in a different league to using traditional headphones combined with musician’s earplugs (ACS Pro17). I could hear the details in each mix much more easily. Having listened back to the recording of my set, my mixes / blends were much tighter and my levels were more consistent throughout the set.

I used a monitor sub (a single 15″). This really helped to get a feel for the bass energy of tracks while mixing in the next tune. I mixed with the main monitor turned off, so basically using a combination of the in ears and the monitor sub. Beat matching was done using the cue – master mix control on the mixer to listen to both tracks through IEMs.

This box of tricks adds ambient and background noise back to the equation, and has a built-in mic for talking to people.

I had a handheld mic wired up via a secondary mixer to allow me to listen to room ambience or talk to people. I found I didn’t use or need the room ambience – while the isolation from the IEMs was really good there was still enough bleed to get an idea of what was happening in a loud club. The ability to talk to people without taking my IEMs out, on the other hand, was really useful. It would have been impossible to chat to the next DJ coming on, or tell someone on the dancefloor what track was playing without the mic (or taking the IEMs out, which is fiddly and best avoided mid-set).

The IEMs I’m using (ACS Evoke Live) have a built-in mic which can be used if you buy the additional live belt pack ($$$) – I think I’ll be investing in this eventually. Handing a microphone to people when you are behind the decks freaks them out as they think they will be heard over the main sound system!

One final note for anyone deciding to go the same route. The first set of monitors ACS supplied weren’t as isolating as I would have liked. The company was very helpful and after some discussion I ended up getting a second set of longer impressions made and ACS remoulded / re-shelled the monitors.

The isolation is now much improved; 10 to 20dB better in the 125Hz to 1kHz range. Every 3dB of isolation effectively doubles the safe listening time, so improving isolation by 15dB on average is a big deal. Instead of five minutes before hearing damage, running monitors at 15dB quieter levels means nearly three hours of safe listening time.

Tip: If you go to an audiologist to get impressions made, make sure you ask for your impressions to go past the second bend of the ear canal. ACS said my first set were too short which was why the isolation wasn’t as good.

Have you tried DJing with in-ear monitors? How did you find it? Want to share your experiences? Please do so in the comments below.

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